Monday, March 16, 2015

Northwest Regional Championship Recap

By Marcus Toomey

On March 7, the Northwest wrapped up its first regional championship, and the Boise State Abraxans (BSA) left the contest as the region’s first champions. It was a storied day, so let’s look at what big picture elements were influential in crowning the seventh and final USQ regional champions.


Snitches Give Stitches
A reoccurrence throughout Saturday was the lack of snitch pulls made by the big three teams in the Northwest. University of British Columbia Quidditch (UBC), BSA, and Western Washington University Wyverns (WWU) all lost pulls to the second-tier teams in the region. This could be attributed to the snitching of some guests: George Williams and Brandon Handy, who both traveled from Utah for the tournament. The two Murderbirds proved the finest challenge any of the region’s seekers have seen. In the second round game against the Portland Augureys, WWU lost starting seeker Sam Seid on a near pull that brought him to the ground. All four bottom-tier teams made interesting and commendable pulls. At the pinnacle of this was the Boise State Thestrals (BST) seeker Justin Wood, who made one of the most touching pulls against his A team. Props to him for his first pull off of a well-seized opportunity.
The other element was how long Handy, Williams, and the other admirable snitches were able to last. Though the shortest game lasted just nine seconds beyond the seeker floor, the semifinal between BSA and UBC was able to see the UBC begin a spirited snitch-on-pitch rally before Boise pulled. What this challenge means is that a harsher camp of snitches could turn the currently solid seekers into a class of hunters. The other side of the coin is that the loss of Seid and the exhaustion of Stew Driflot made WWU and Boise reevaluate the depth of their seeker bench and the strategy for controlling the meta-game. Speaking of which…
The Meta-Game
All day, the big three schools could be heard discussing point differentials and the seeding it would grant. This discussion might have briefly taken at least UBC and WWU out of a real competitive mindset. It is also possible to suggest that all three of these schools know how to run the score up when the situation calls for it, and that could very well represent promise in the overall strategy of these teams.

Lifting Up the Bottom
The second tier of the region brought its A-game. Portland came in with the tightest defense that it has ever run. Captain Benji B’Shalom brought his remarkable quaffle game early on and made his mark on the day with speed and determination. Ball-carrier Phillip Willis was able to start a physical tone that Portland was not known for, and the promise the team has shown only increased. Portland’s first and biggest priority should be developing field awareness and fostering a roster with more than 10 players.
The Moscow Manticores at the University of Idaho came in sharp and on point. They have improved their ability to be aware of the field around them. However, it is problematic that their defense could not work together. The Manticores’ beaters threw mistimed beats and early throws, and on-ball defense was able to let the wings be open more often than not. What was exceptional to see, though, was an energy from their sideline that kept many players in the game.
The B teams were able to build upon the early playbooks of their more established teams. What is to be desired, though, is a distancing from heroball mentality. The story is interesting because while British Columbia Quidditch Club (BCQC) needs to become autonomous of UBC, BST needs to study the “pass the ball” pressure style of its mentors. In the end, hearing the bottom four call out plays, communicate, and rally around their own growing play was fun and rewarding.

There were two forfeits on Saturday: an injured Thestrals decided not to play BCQC, and BCQC opted not to play its A team. While the Thestrals were outwardly known to be injured, word got out that BCQC was giving up its game in what many thought was collusion with its A team.
The very important piece that everyone missed, and that no one asked, was the nature of BCQC’s physical health. The team was struggling to put in healthy male players, and a near majority of the already small roster was beaten from a long day of play. In the future, staying on time in asking important questions might save us all some frustration.
Editor’s Note: The Quidditch Post was one of the first to report on this and actively spread the misinformation. We have apologized to those impacted and regret this error.

Second and Third
The Wyverns and UBC brought a game that was ready for good play but not ready for their Idaho-based rivals.
The Wyverns set a dynamite tone in the first two games until their mental composure came under fire. The slow start in their first game against Moscow was soon cranked up to a fast and powerful level. Bringing down almost maxed out differentials in all of their pool games, the offense was predicated on equal parts speed and strength. The problem was about mentality. While team cohesion is developing, the still moderately hero ball style will not survive much longer. The change is coming quickly, but it needs to occur before the Wyverns set down in Rock Hill, South Carolina. It is imperative that the chaser corps takes back its identity and is able to pass with ease. Early in the championship game and throughout the day, the Wyverns proved they could score off solid passes to chasers near the hoops. The team was also stressed out in-game. When the Wyverns have to deal with strong frustration, they can lose their heads. When the ball was in the hands of any offense that wasn’t Boise, the man marking style that has come out of WWU’s defense proved to be too much for any other team as the Wyverns proved they can protect their offense with either a back pocket chaser or a loaded beater. The whole roster is bolstered by players committed to making plays, and that showed during all of the Wyverns’ matches. As usual, the beater corps managed to be sharp and effective, held down by the accuracy of seasoned veterans that could still make a near 55 percent scoring rate without bludger control. The freshmen deserve respect; they have not only stepped up, but they have also made significant progress since the beginning of the season. Jack-of-all trades Matt Nagel, Bryan Walker, Megan Boice, Kessa Wilson, and Alexis Reissmann all brought a stepped-up game to Tukwila, Washington, and with strong commitment to practice over these next weeks, they can help make the Wyverns a real threat.
While there is a universe out there where the Wyverns beat the eventual champions under the exact same conditions, I don’t want to live in that universe. To me, the Wyverns are now facing the best chance to come out a better team. Rock Hill will be one of the greatest challenges the team has ever faced but one the team can rise to. Provided the Wyverns come out of their remaining practices with a clear head, a strong will, and a cohesive idea, they can make some waves. Washington has the team, the trust, the leadership, and a style that is all its own. Congratulations to Western Washington on a second place victory.
UBC had a day that few people saw coming. From the same pattern of not being able to finish with all of its grabs, UBC completed good score spreads against its other opponents. Then came Boise. In this intense game between the equally physical Thunderbirds and Abraxans, UBC eventually bowed to the Abraxans. The game was marked by hard-hitting tackles and beating on both sides of the ball that was strong, concise, and made use of bludger control effectively. UBC star players Lendl Magsipoc, Cameron Cutler, and Rob Halas played a high-pressure chaser game and made it hard for other teams to deny their run attack.
UBC’s beating was on point. The two-male beater set of Janik Andreas and Brandon Rivas reminded us all that beaters can play a physical game, and the 1.5 dynamic was incorporated well when players like Erica Milley were on the field. Andreas kept critical pressure on the Manticores and all of the other beaters and was able to tackle and avoid the beat while making it look like it was easy. The quaffle play during the day might have been conservative, but it was effective enough to keep UBC in the race. After its initial loss to Boise, UBC went on to walk through the rest of its schedule before seeing the strongest team in Idaho one more time.
In the semifinal contest, the Thunderbirds looked just as frustrated as they had earlier in the day. What might have done them in was their lack of cohesion. In the face of pressure, it can take UBC time to readjust to the approaching offense, and that pressure was exemplified a few times in this tournament. In the spirit of commendation, though, UBC managed to march back on a rally from behind that would put it within range at least briefly. The other weakness that UBC exposed was a lack of passing game. When it came down to it, its handoff style was able to keep other teams unsure of the attack while causing defenses to collapse on it quickly. However, Boise saw through this and started forcing passes that fell short or incomplete. It was troubling to have Magsipoc battling what appeared to have been a serious ankle sprain as this made UBC’s running game rely on shiftier players in an almost tackle-based game. In the end, both UBC and WWU fell victim to their harsher schedules. Congrats to the Thunderbirds on a great showing and a third place win.

The Champs Were Ready
Cohesion, passing, and stress. It must be exhausting to be the Abraxans. While early season play had the Abraxans losing to more dominant forces and injuries, the orange and blue came out hard and fast. What undid their opponents was a combination of heavy hits and dynamite trust between the players. Chasers Casey Thompson, Joshua Govenor, and Bryan Bixler ran a clear and effective offense that almost all of the defenses crumpled under. When you thought one player was getting the ball, the other did, and this continued for the duration of all of their matches.
As exemplified early in the championship game, short and confusing connecting passes made defenses unprepared. There is so little to discuss in terms of weaknesses that Boise exposed. The major element is the gaps in the field that are left when the offense is able to split between the hard-hitting run and the effective passing. Keeper Joel Johnson calls the offense brilliantly but leaves open room for quick responses. The answer might be in the form of holding a ball carrier on drop like the Wyverns do, but a more effective idea would be forcing the defense to play around their on-seeker beater. The beating of Jessie Gibson and Sally Matlock held the fort down. The only weakness that was truly exposed in this front was the commitment made by Lang Truong toward defending his seeker. Truong is a monstrous beater with killer skill but saw his fair share of opportunities to pressure an incoming offense while Driflot worked his magic.

Looking ahead to World Cup, I don’t think it’s unfair to suggest that UBC, BSA, or WWU could make a splash. Each has a commendable style and developing identity that could really pose a serious threat to the lower-tier teams and could even possibly pull an upset.
While I don’t see anything beyond a Round of 24 appearance for these teams (a feat that I happily admit would take incredible luck and a lot of practice in the penultimate weeks), I have full faith that the three teams our region is sending will be able to bring the competitive spirit that is keeping this region alive and growing.
I have previously said that the Northwest was looking for something more than just bids; it was looking for respect. While I will argue to the death that we found enough of it to go around, I want to highlight something more important I think we all found: competitive fire.
We found it in the lower tier, who made us earn those bids as long as they had their health.
We found it in the rally UBC started, that showed us how this sport can be influenced by mental fortitude.
We found it in the excitement WWU shared at meeting its fundraising goal and how that translated to an early neck-and-neck game against BSA.
We found it in the champions who had bowed their head and went to work.
And now, here come the Abraxans, here come the Thunderbirds, and here come the Wyverns.
Here comes World Cup.

All photos by Tasha Kiri

No comments:

Post a Comment